By Pastor Linda Dolby
Scripture: Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets. "He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.
Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?
Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
I begin by quoting to you these lines, written by an anonymous author: “At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built, not what we got but what we shared, not our competence but our character, and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life of love.”
Another way of saying this is an inscription on my parent’s tombstone: “One life, ‘twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”
Another way of saying this is “I’ve never seen a hearse towing a U-Haul.”
And this is the way Jesus says it, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Jesus is on a journey with his disciples. They’ve been to Tyre through Sidon to Lake Galilee, then to Bethsaida, now on to the villages around Caesarea Philppi. Jesus is leading and his disciples are trying to keep up.
The disciples journey with Jesus. Being a disciple is walking with Jesus. They are learning that being a disciple is not so much a bunch of head beliefs. To be a Christian is not just assenting to intellectual propositions. To be a Christian is be in a relationship. Jesus says, “Hey, let’s go take a walk.”
To journey with Jesus means movement, getting from here to there, we are a people on the move. Walking with Jesus brings growth and surprises, because you never know where he will take you. In fact in the book of Acts, Jesus-followers were known as people on the way
I’ve recently returned home from a 10-day bus tour journey of Spain and Portugal. It was a wonderful experience. And yet, I have to admit that being on a bus for 3 hours with 3 children under 5 who often cried, being with adults who got tired and cranky too – the journey was not always joy-filled.
The same happens to you and me when we journey with Jesus. There are peaks and valleys along the way. You are trudging along just trying to keep up with the Son of God.
Along the way, we are told in today’s scripture, Jesus asks the disciples, “who do people say I am?”. They reply, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah; and still others, on of the prophets. This is what we’ve heard.” What you need to know is Elijah and the prophets in the Hebrew testament are seen as people who are close to God and beloved of the people in Jewish tradition. Seeing Jesus as Moses or Elijah, then, was a sign of great respect, honor, awe and love among those who saw Jesus this way.
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Now Jesus is getting personal. He doesn’t want to know what others say, he wants to know what they say.
And Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the anointed one, the messiah.
Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him. Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
You see, Peter just loses it. Peter forgets that Jesus is the Teacher and he is the student. He takes Jesus aside to set him straight saying something like “No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong. You are our savior, the leader of the troops, the one who is going to overthrow this oppressive government.”
But Jesus answers, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things." In Jesus’ day, the satan was known as the accuser, the prosecuting attorney, one who challenges.
Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.
What he is saying is that you are no longer captain of your own ship. You will not be the master of your own existence. When you take a walk with Jesus, Jesus and his mission will drive your actions. Taking up the cross means to accept the call to act in accordance with God’s love in the world, no matter the cost.
Some days, my friends, we are like Peter. We want a powerful God who shields us from our trials and terrors. “Immortal, invincible, God only wise” is the God we want. And Jesus says, when you journey with me you will find strength in weakness and you will gain by losing.
Jesus shows us another God, one who hears the cries of the poor and defends the orphans, widows and immigrants. The God of the Bible suffers with the people. God comes among us as vulnerable baby born among the homeless, lives as an immigrant, associates with the outcasts and compares the kingdom to receiving a child.
A recruiter for Teach for America—a program that recruits bright, young people from college campuses to teach in America's most deprived school systems—once went to visit Duke University. To an auditorium full of Duke students she said, "Looking at you tonight, I don't know why I'm here. I can tell looking at you that you're bound for bright futures, success. And here I stand, trying to recruit you for a salary of $15,000 a year in some of the worst schools in America, begging you to waste your life for a bunch of ungrateful kids in the backwoods of Appalachia or inner city Philadelphia. I must have been crazy to come here. But I do have some literature up here, and I would be willing to talk to anybody who happens to be interested. The meeting is over." An amazing number of students went forward, dying to give themselves to something bigger and more important than their own selves.
People want to be a part of something bigger and more important than their own selves.
Will Willimon tells of a friend of his who hit bottom, spun out of control, and crossed the median heading the wrong way at 100 miles per hour: He fell from his prestigious perch as an attorney to the depths of alcoholism. He came home one day to find his family, his pastor, and three of his close friends all sitting in his living room. And it wasn't his birthday. Yet it was.
He is on his way back, thanks to his loving wife and children and the good work of AA. He was a private man, so he wouldn't tell Will all the details, but he did tell him this: "I had always gone to church, but always in the back of my mind, thought the Church was for losers, the weak. But you would be amazed at what I've learned about God." "Like what?" Will asked him.
"That so many phrases I had heard all my life suddenly have become real to me," replied his friend. "Like what?"
"Like 'Take up your cross' and 'You can only find your life by losing it.' Through hitting bottom, I've met God," said Will's friend. "And who is the God you have met?"
"God is a tough, relentless, friend."
Let me end where I began: “At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built, not what we got but what we shared, not our competence but our character, and not our success but our significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life of love.”
And that’s the journey with Jesus.
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